VILNIUS – As the scandal surrounding the use of money by municipal politicians heats up in Lithuania, it might evolve into a political crisis, therefore, the government's resignation is possible but it won’t also mean early general elections, ruling coalition partners say.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who also leads the ruling conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, says he is convening the party's presidium on Friday to discuss, among other issues, whether the government should resign and early general elections should take place.
It comes after Lithuanian Minister of Education, Science and Sport Jurgita Siugzdiniene said on Thursday it had handed in her resignation letter to Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte amid the ongoing payout scandal. The prime minister, however, has expressed her confidence in the education minister several times.
"It's a rational proposal as the issue, as we see, is important and needs to be discussed, and I would not like to comment on possible solutions before the meeting," Speaker of the Seimas Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, who is currently in Tallinn, told BNS via her spokesperson.
Eugenijus Gentvilas, the elder of the Liberal Movement political group in the Seimas, says the government's resignation would not necessarily mean early general elections.
"The government's resignation does not necessarily mean early Seimas elections. The Seimas can decide: OK, this government has demonstrated its standard and is resigning, then let's form a new government," Gentvilas told BNS.
He also says there might be internal discussion on the fact that this situation could lead to the government's resignation.
"The second thing is whether we would have early elections. The question is, whether, upon the government's resignation, there would there be enough votes in the parliament to hold snap elections. It might be so that upon the government's resignation, there will not be enough votes in the Seimas for early elections, and then a new government would have to be formed in this Seimas," the politician said.
Gentvilas believes the coalition partners should have discussed this issue from the very first day, as soon as the news about the possible non-transparent use of money by the education minister, when she was a Kaunas councilor, emerged. However, it could not be done as Landsbergis was in Japan at the time and the Seimas speaker was in Rome, and she's now in Estonia.
Economy and Innovation Minister Ausrine Armonaite, who also leads the Freedom Party that is part of the ruling block, says "some kind of a reset could take place".
"I can't really comment on early elections yet. We have agreed to talk in the near future," Armonaite told BNS. "The situation is very serious. There's a confidence crisis within the political system, and trust in democracy in general and political parties has fallen, especially among young people. I have no doubt that we need to go back to our parties, first of all, and discuss things with the community and then within the coalition, and talk about how we can get out of the situation. I would like to refrain from any detailed comments for the time being," Armonaite said.
Vytautas Mitalas, the elder of the Freedom Party political group in the Seimas, says the resignation of several ministers would not mean the collapse of the whole government.
"Please, forgive me for downplaying the drama in this situation, but the replacement of one, two or even three ministers, in theory, I am speaking purely in theory, does not necessarily mean the collapse of the whole government, its resignation or early elections. Such a situation may be provoked more by the inability to work together, the failure to fulfill election promises and the commitments enshrined in the coalition agreement, but not by the change of one, two or three ministers," Mitalas told BNS on Friday.
In his words, there are many examples of ministers changing more than once, "while governments continued to work, especially in such a difficult geopolitical time".
The education minister found herself in hot water last week after public figure Andrius Tapinas revealed that Siugzdiniene received 13,800 euros in payouts as a Kaunas councilor in 2019-2020, and he also questioned whether the money was used transparently.